The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th, 2012

The Geek’s Reading List – Week of November 7th, 2012


I offer a welcome back to my earlier readers and an introduction for my new ones. I am an independent analyst and consultant with 19 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst, and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.

The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. I am trying to reconstruct my distribution list so if you receive this newsletter and want to be added to the distribution list, send me an email at

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Brian Piccioni


1.        Apple Said to Be Exploring Switch From Intel for Mac

I think this is the second or third time Apple has been reported as thinking of switching from Intel to ARM. The ramifications of such a move would lie well beyond the processor swap. All the peripherals on the market today from GPUs to USB ports to SSD controllers are optimised for x86 and PC. So, either Apple would have to ‘wrap’ an ARM in a pseudo PC hardware shell, or they would have to develop all these products, drivers, etc..

“Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential. Apple began using Intel chips for Macs in 2005.”

2.        Intel releases third-gen data center SSD, slashes price by 40%

Intel has been pushing the SSD envelope recently. This drive ain’t cheap – it’s about twice the price of a non-enterprise equivalent – however, given Moore’s Law, you’ll see the same specs in consumer SSDs at consumer prices in about a year. And the ‘electrolytic capacitors’ comment is nonsense.

“The DC S3700 write endurance is twice that of the SSD 710 series. An 800GB model, for example, can sustain 10 full drive writes per day, or 8TB, every day for five years, according to Peene. While not as applicable a metric, Intel also claims a meantime between failures (MBTF) prediction of 2 million hours.”

3.        Horizontal channels key to ultra-small 3D NAND

I have no idea whether this technology will ever become commercially available, but it sure looks interesting (actually, it kind of looks like core memory, which is even more interesting).

“The researchers say the technology not only is lower cost than conventional sub-20nm 2D NAND, it can provide 1 Tb of memory if further scaled to 25nm feature sizes. At that size the Macronix device would comprise only 32 layers, compared to 3D stackable NANDs with vertical channels that would need almost 100 layers to reach the same memory density.”

4.        TI chips said to simplify wireless charging

Wireless charging isn’t magic – provided the source and device are in close proximity, making, essentially, an air core transformer. This is what these devices are for, and such an approach has a convenience factor. Charging at a distance is another matter, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

“TI (Dallas) introduced its first single-chip wireless power receiver with an integrated battery charger, bq51050B, as well as a “free-position” transmitter IC said to expand the charge area by 400 percent, bq500410A. Both devices are compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC)’s Qi standard.”

5.        M2M In The Enterprise: Still ‘The First Inning’

M2M (Machine To Machine) applications have tremendous potential, and I’ve noted that prices for wireless connectivity (WiFi, Xbee, etc.) are rapidly trending to zero, which should accelerate the trend. How we’ll handle all that data is another matter.

“Axeda, a provider of cloud-based M2M software and services, surveyed 75 M2M industry leaders at its Axeda Connection 2012 conference in June. The respondents work into a variety of industries, including life sciences, healthcare, and technology. Two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents say they’re either interested in, or planning to integrate, M2M data with their back-end systems. However, only 11% have done so thus far.”

6.        3M’s first LED bulb uses TV tech to appeal to lighting Luddites

We haven’t had a LED item in while. Two things of note: the novel waveguide technology and the crazy things (and high costs) making a modern LED lamp backwards compatible with a socket designed in 1909 by Edison.

“Rather than using a more conventional design, the Advanced Light — the company’s first home bulb — uses lightguides in order to distribute the light generated inside. This comes with some interesting advantages, most importantly a design that looks a lot like a conventional incandescent bulb and one that casts a similar light pattern.”

7.        Gartner: Mobile Consumerization Now an ‘Unstoppable Force’ in IT

In general I warn that the prognostications of Gartner and the like have little or no predictive utility. That being said, the headline seems likely correct, which explains RIM’s predicament, and likely fate, pretty completely.

“Seventy percent of all personal computing devices sold this year will be smartphones or tablets — and the consumerization trend is now “an unstoppable force” hitting IT departments. Those are some of the indications of the huge and growing impact of mobile Relevant Products/Services computing in new data and projections from industry research firm Gartner.”

8.        Teardowns of iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD reveal differing business models

Funny story: I am reconstructing my home network and picked up a 5 port gigabit Ethernet switch for $27, roughly one tenth of the cost per port of a 10 megabit 15 years ago. And the moral of the story is hardware prices trend to zero once features and performance plateau. And they are going to plateau pretty quickly in the tablet business.

“Teardowns of the Apple iPad Mini and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD by IHS iSuppli have revealed that the two devices cost almost the same amount to manufacture, despite the retail prices being significantly different.”

9.        Android Tablets Gain Momentum in the Third Quarter, Expectations Remain High for the Holiday Quarter, According to IDC

To be fair to Apple, they still have the dominant platform, though it is quite clear that Android is taking over the mobile device space. The reason is clear: a free (except for Microsoft’s patent extortion) and open (just as important) operating system is bound to attract a wide following among users and manufacturers provided the OS keeps up with user needs.

“Apple’s slowdown put a sizeable dent in the company’s commanding worldwide market tablet share, which slipped from 65.5% in 2Q12 to 50.4% in 3Q12. The remaining top five tablet vendors all gained share during the quarter as a result. Most notable was the impressive quarter turned out by Samsung—driven by its Galaxy Tab and Note 10.1. Samsung shipped 5.1 million tablets worldwide in 3Q12, up 115.0% from 2Q12; that’s an increase of 325.0% from 3Q11, when it shipped 1.2 million tablets.”

10.   When A Mouse Requires An Internet Connection, You’re Doing ‘Cloud’ Wrong

I have a Logitech Harmony Remote Control which uses what you would now call ‘the cloud’ to retrieve device configurations. But, seriously, a computer mouse with requires an Internet connection to install? What were they thinking?

“In a situation eerily similar to “always-on” DRM schemes, Razer mouse and keyboard purchasers are finding their high-end peripherals bricked by software that requires an internet connection to function.”

11.   Why The Cloud Is Not As Safe As It Sounds

Just to be clear, I don’t believe there is anything ‘safe’ about cloud services at all. You are paying somebody else to secure your information and, run the only part of your business which matters. That work will inevitably go to the lowest cost provider. Furthermore, you are assuming the cloud services provider’s employees are honest and competent, and that the company itself will not expose your data to governments or hackers.

“The speed and flexibility of hosting with Amazon is one of its biggest draws, but just because we’re sitting “safely” in the cloud now doesn’t mean AWS is immune to hurricanes or other server disasters. A few weeks ago, AWS experienced some difficulties, taking down what seemed like half the Internet in the process. The issue, once again, was traced back to one of Amazon’s massive data centers located in northern Virginia (which is actually on the ground and not in any sort of cloud at all) that lately has been prone to power outages and “performance issues,” temporarily killing major sites like Netflix, Instagram, and Reddit.”

12.   Flat World Knowledge to Drop Free Access to Textbooks

The traditional model in the tech world is to price high then lower prices to attract a wider audience. An infinite price increase is an unusual step, and I’d have to say “good luck with that!”

“Sometimes free costs too much. As of January 1, 2013, Flat World Knowledge, which used to describe itself as the world’s largest publisher of free and open textbooks online, will no longer offer content at no charge.”

13.   OLED TV panels’ breakout year delayed, but it’s coming

I used to think OLED was going to be a big deal, but the progress made in LCD is such that I really have doubts as to whether they’ll ever hit the commercial channel. They are good displays but LCD is so good and so cheap that display makers have neither the incentive nor the cash flow to product something that is more or less the same thing.

“Unfortunately, still struggling with low manufacturing yields and high prices, the two giants recently admitted the delivery of those technologies will be pushed out into 2013. NPD DisplaySearch now projects only 500 OLED TVs will ship in 2012.”

14.   Driverless cars are on the way. Here’s how not to regulate them.

The alternative fuels bit is pandering gibberish, however, I don’t really understand the outrage – if a driverless car runs over a cat, let alone a pedestrian, all hell will break loose and the lawyers will have a field day.

“As with California’s recently enacted law, Cheh’s bill requires that a licensed driver be present in the driver’s seat of these vehicles. While seemingly inconsequential, this effectively outlaws one of the more promising functions of autonomous vehicle technology: allowing disabled people to enjoy the personal mobility that most people take for granted. Google highlighted this benefit when one of its driverless cars drove a legally blind man to a Taco Bell.”

15.   Privacy in Ubuntu 12.10: Full Disk Encryption

It’s surprising this isn’t more commonly done, despite the likely performance penalty. I hope they are using secure encryption, beyond backdoors inserted by ‘the spooks’.

“When you install Ubuntu, now there’s a checkbox to “Encrypt the new Ubuntu installation for security.” Users who are new to GNU/Linux and just making the switch can easily have the same level of security against physical-access attacks as seasoned nerds.”

16.   Retractions stigmatize scientific fields study finds

This is not exactly a surprising result – first, it may be that some of the studies not being cited were pointing out that the results in the retracted paper don’t hold water. Or it might be that researchers were working in the same field and realized, absent the retracted paper, there was no point. In terms of the money – well, if you found out that the seminal work in skin transplants in mice was fraudulent (true story), would you be as ready to fund follow on research?

“Why should a retraction cost unaffiliated researchers in lost citations and cash? Azoulay and his colleagues reasoned that there could be at least two explanations for the ripple-effect: either scientists perceive that there is limited potential in a field besmirched by a retraction, or they are fearful of being tainted by association with a ‘contaminated’ area of study.”

17.   Noam Chomsky on Where Artificial Intelligence Went Wrong

I spend a lot of time railing against the stupidity of journalists – usually with good reason – but every now and then there is an exception to be made, and this article is one such exception. I don’t think I have ever read such an in depth discussion of Chomsky’s scientific theories and perspectives, and I have to say my ignorance makes it a tough read. Pity he got the addition wrong, though.

“The undoing of Skinner’s grip on psychology is commonly marked by Chomsky’s 1967 critical review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, a book in which Skinner attempted to explain linguistic ability using behaviorist principles.”

18.   New At The Dentist: 3D Printing “Dental Crowns While You Wait”

This is a great idea, though I don’t know how the cost compares with other gadgets dentists buy. It might make sense for the manufacturer to lease the unit, with payback based on the number of crowns made. The limitations cited sound like a lack of imagination: you can always scan a mold, after all.

“Instead of making a mold and sending it to a lab for scanning, dentists are now using a small camera to scan the misshapen teeth directly. The digitized scan is then sent to an on-site milling machine that carves the crown from a block of porcelain – in about an hour. After about 15 minutes of preparation the crown is ready to be implanted. No need to walk around for two weeks, waiting, with a temporary filling. Read a few magazine articles while the crown’s prepared, and soon you’re on your way.”

19.   New Mastercard has LCD screen and keyboard

This is really frustrating – I had this idea about 10 years ago. Basically you would code in a ‘challenge’ question and read the encrypted response on the display. This would verify that you have the card in your hands. Sigh.

“The card has touch-sensitive buttons and the ability to create a “one-time password” – doing away with the need for a separate device sometimes needed to log in to online banking.”

20.   Cockatoo shows tool-making skills

As I always say, animals are smarter than we think. The fact this bird apparently figured this out spontaneously suggests an innate predisposition for tool use and problem solving.


“Researchers were unexpectedly alerted to Figaro’s tool-using ability while he was playing with a pebble and accidentally dropped it out of reach on the other side of his wire mesh enclosure.”

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